Breakfast Cafes Aren’t Just About Bacon and Eggs

Dec 1, 2022

If you’re one of the many people who enjoys a weekend breakfast at their local café, you might be under the impression that breakfast chefs have it easy. However, running a successful breakfast and lunch café is much more than just whipping up scrambled eggs, coffee and toasted sandwiches.

According to IBIS World data, there are currently 24,929 cafes and coffee shops in Australia. The sector has consistently grown year on year since 2013, with 4.5 per cent annualised business growth for the 2017-2022 period, despite the challenges of COVID lockdowns.

Chef Justin Zetter is the head chef at one of the Mornington Peninsula’s most popular cafes – Café Thirteen 83. With so much competition in the space, Justin, who was one of hundreds of chefs at Fine Food Australia this year, says it’s vital cafes think as much outside of the square as possible and tweak when they can.

“I’m constantly on the lookout for inspiration,” he says. “So, I always make time to go to Fine Food Australia every year to see what trends and ingredients are hot which is great for new ideas, and to meet industry reps one on one. The chef competitions this year were fantastic to watch and I also found the AI of the new food service delivery methods really interesting.”

New trends in café menus

Justin, who has been at the 70-seat family run café for seven years, says currently the hottest trend in the sector is simple food elevated with a twist. “People still want familiar for breakfast, however if you can add some kind of ‘wow factor’ that’s when you get people coming back and taking pictures for their Instagram. At the moment I’m working on a new breakfast dish of mango-infused panna cotta with homemade granola and fresh fruit, a sort of dessert take on breakfast.”

He adds that little touches also go a long way. “We make all our relishes and sauces in house, we don’t buy it in. One of our most popular breakfast items is our beetroot omelette, where we’ve folded through our beetroot relish along with spinach and feta cheese.

“At lunch the peri peri club sandwich is the best seller – chicken breast marinated in house made spicy sauce and homemade tzatziki. People appreciate those kind of personalised, hand crafted details, and I feel it helps them to keep coming back.”

The 31-year-old says it’s also a good idea to keep things fresh by adding in weekly specials, which are often the big sellers. “I’ll offer a new breakfast dish and three new lunch dishes every week,” he says. “I also review the main menu every six months. The popular dishes stay on, but I may also add dishes or tweak them.”

Cafes can deliver on profits

For people wanting to open a restaurant or invest in one, Justin says it’s worth considering a café, especially if you can add value with catering options.

“During lockdown we pivoted and were actually flat out delivering breakfast boxes to people which worked really well. However, the trade is now back to normal and many people these days to save money are preferring to go out for breakfast or lunch at a café instead of dinner which can be much more expensive.

“We don’t have high food costs as we don’t buy in things like expensive steaks and are sourcing simple things like eggs. We also don’t have a lot of wastage and we have a strong coffee trade serving around 400 coffees a day.

“As far as labour goes, we just have a few waitresses and don’t have bar staff like a restaurant so the overall wage output isn’t too high.”

The pressures of a fast pace

When asked about the challenges café life, Justin admits that the fast pace can be testing for any chef.

“We can go from an empty house to a full house in the blink of an eye,” he says. “There’s me, a sous chef and kitchen hand having to put out 40 meals straight away. It’s also very quick in that people expect to be in and out of breakfast in 40 minutes, unlike a restaurant where they might relax over a few glasses of wine first and stretch it out.

“I do try to keep my stress levels down for health reasons and have found that the best way to stay on top of everything is to prep as much as possible first up. So that’s getting there early – for me about 4.45am and making sure all the ingredients are prepared, all the takeaway wraps for lunches are done, so it’s all organised and ready to go straight away.”

However, Justin says any challenges far outweigh the benefits. “The big advantage for me is not having to work nights. I’m done by 3pm and can spend the rest of the day with my wife and daughter. I would eventually like to open my own café and catering business. It’s been really rewarding so far, so I’d like to remain in this area.”

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